8 Indispensable Features for a Kick-Ass Event App

This is a guest post by Michael Heipel. He’s one of the (few) cool guys shipping great event marketing content in Europe.

Michael is responsible for Marketing and Event Management at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers WAN-IFRA. Among his duties are the organisation and marketing of the annual World Newspaper Congress and IFRA Expo, the leading trade show for news publishing.

Michael blogs about event innovations, conference marketing and social media. He also works as a freelance social media and event marketing consultant and lecturer.

A bit of Background

Smartphone and tablet computer usage is constantly on the rise, no doubt about that. Internet-enabled phones are “reinventing the connection between companies and their customers”, as Rich Miner, Partner at Google Ventures states it.

This definitely has an impact on event organizers and it is reflected in the growing number of apps that are published for the leading conferences and trade shows. How many people did you see at your latest event with iPads, iPhones, Android phones? There you go…

Now if you consider following that road yourself, you will find out there are plenty of service providers and solutions to choose from.

Big question: What are the key features that an event app should have? What do people expect? It is quite obvious that a mere replication of your online content or print catalogue/brochure is

a. Inappropriate for the medium
b. Simply boring
c. Just useless (you can use online and print publications in the same way)

When designing an app for your event, you should have three things in mind:

– Your eye
– Your finger
– Your brain

Make it sophisticatedly simple – and fun to use! Resist the temptation to add too many features, but rather focus on the core features.

Now, what would those features be? Here are my thoughts:

1. Maps

For trade shows, a map showing the exhibitor stands is an important feature. But when you do that, try not to simply upload a boring PDF. Enthuse the finger and eye with something marvellous, like the World Newspaper Week Vienna 2011 app. A lot of people asked me after our latest event to include a feature that would show your own position on the map, for better orientation. Points-of-interest like the restaurants, free wifi-zones etc are definitely an asset.

2. Event schedule

A no-brainer for conference apps… However bear in mind to choose a software that allows you to make changes without having to do a data update or even an app update. It should import an XML feed from your website, or you make changes on-the-fly on a website that feed directly into the app. Don’t forget the “Add-to-Calendar” option to include an event in your calendar. Speaker information is great, too, and you might also include links to speakers’ twitter handles or blogs for direct interaction. Don’t forget the basic visitor information – one of the most clicked features in our Vienna app was… the bus schedule!

3. Exhibitor catalogue

Devil’s in the detail I am afraid… We had so many small issues when importing the xml feed from our online catalogue to the app – you may want to check what the exact formats for pics and logos, phone numbers, email addresses or websites need to be, otherwise you might have a lot of small, but annoying bugs. Particularly when exhibitors design their online catalogue entry themselves, you want to make sure to give clear instructions on which file formats and naming conventions to use. Calling or emailing an exhibitor straight from the app is a great feature. Full text search is key, and if you add links to promotional material like flyers, brochures or digital hand-outs for download, that can reduce your event’s carbon footprint at the same time!

4. Blog and social media integration

Absolutely, this adds the live-touch to the app. Integrating Twitter and/or Facebook via API allows the users to directly join the discussion from the app. Simply displaying the feed is not very appealing, I think. You want to trigger discussions, re-tweets, shares, amplify the buzz around your event. Social media are just perfect for that!

5. Interaction, feedback and surveys

Interactive features are great for an event app. It may go as far as adding augmented reality features like the Mobile World Congress Barcelona does. There’s no limit to your imagination, but bear in mind to keep it as simple as possible. You don’t want to ask too much of your delegates, because they did not come to play around with your app, but rather for specific reasons that your app should support. Like networking or trend scouting.

6. Personalization

“Add-to-schedule” or “Favourite” are very helpful when planning your visit at a conference or trade show and clearly add value to your app. Ideally, your app would offer those features even when offline, because then your customers could use time on the plane or train to prepare their visit. This rules out, however, pure web-based apps, that so far only work when you’re online. But technology is advancing, and with html5 capabilities, it may be possible soon to use web-apps (as opposed to native apps that you have to download/install from the app stores) also offline.

7. Monetization

Let’s face it: Native apps cost will cost you money. And we are still talking 5-digit numbers of EUR, even though the prices have been going down significantly. You can get web-based apps with some of the features I mentioned at significantly lower rates (sometimes even less than 100€ – 150$ per event), but they are limited in their functionalities as well as to what extent they can make use of your smartphone’s or tablet’s features. So, incorporating one or more sponsors is a good idea, and your app should be prepared to provide them with good visibility.

8. Contact exchange

Why do people attend conferences and trade shows? One of the main reasons is to network! Your app can facilitate contact exchange in several ways: By adding the XING handshake, generating a QR-code with your contact details for scanning or integrating your own social network via which your delegates can contact each others. Again, don’t make it too complicated, because a simple “old-school” exchange of business cards is hard to beat in it’s simplicity 😉

In Conclusion

On my event marketing blog, I have listed a number of technology suppliers and best practice examples of successful conference and trade show apps. I am always curious to learn about new ideas and implementations, so do keep me posted about the great stuff you’ve created!

And hey, one more thing: It is not enough just to create a kick-ass app – don’t forget to market the hell out of it! Use all your available channels to let your customers know about it, and feel free to take a look at those 10 ideas that can drive downloads.